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Penang is an island-state off the northwestern coast of Peninsular Malaysia. It comprises two halves - Penang Island, where the capital city of George Town is located, and a strip of mainland Peninsula named Seberang Perai.
George Town — the capital city of Penang and centre of Malaysia's second largest city; a favourite spot for visitors as it has many attractive pre-Second World War houses and shophouses, as well as 19th century churches, temples, mosques, and colonial buildings. George Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is clean, safe and well managed. Very walkable as there are pavement along most roads and the condition of the pavement is very good.
Mainland (Seberang Perai)
Butterworth — mainland gateway to Penang, directly across the Straits of Malacca from George Town
Bukit Mertajam — capital of Seberang Perai Tengah district
Bandar Perda — 20 minutes from Butterworth and 15 minutes from Penang Bridge
Nibong Tebal — capital of Seberang Perai Selatan district
Simpang Ampat — a small town famous for its nearby seafood at Bukit Tambun and Batu Kawan
Seberang Jaya — satellite township
Tasek Gelugor — a small town 20 minutes from Butterworth
The state of Penang is made up of two parts, Penang Island, a turtle-shaped island in the Straits of Malacca 8km west of Peninsular Malaysia, and Seberang Perai, a rectangular-shaped district that is part of the mainland.
Georgetown is Penang's capital city and Malaysia's second largest city.
When to go
Penang's high season is around Christmas, New Year's Day, and Chinese New Year, when the east coast of Malaysia is drenched and hordes of sun-seeking tourists descend on the island. Accommodation tends to be packed, and priced accordingly.
Recently refurbished Penang Bayan Lepas International Airport (PEN) is one of Malaysia's larger and better-equipped airports, operated by Malaysia Airports.
The airport is on the southeastern coast of the island, some 30 min from George Town. It is serviced by Malaysia Airlines, Thai Airways, Dragonair, SilkAir AirAsia, Jetstar Airways, Tiger Airways, Firefly, China Airlines and China Southern.
Penang is connected to the mainland and the North-South Expressway by the Penang Bridge. As traffic is usually congested in the morning and evening the Penang Second Bridge is being built. There is no toll for vehicles heading to the mainland, but vehicles headed to the island must pay a toll.
KTMB operates train service to Butterworth train station, within walking distance from the ferry terminal that connects to Penang Island. Tickets can be booked at the train station, the ferry terminal. The journey to/from Kuala Lumpur takes 4 hours and cost RM40 one way.
One of the best ways to sight see is to walk around Georgetown; but wear light clothes, start early in the morning, and put on plenty of sun-block during the daytime. When crossing the roads, remember to look both ways, even on a one-way street. Walking tours are available by local residents and Georgetown personalities, arrangement can be made direct or through hotels or guest houses.
RapidPenang, the local bus service, features new buses. All bus stations and bus stops which are serviced by the RapidPenang buses are labeled with proper signboards to ensure user-friendliness.
These three-wheeled human-powered vehicles might be the best idea for a pleasant city tour. One can stop at any point to take a photo or buy souvenirs. Many trishaw riders are also excellent 'tour guides'. Negotiate the fare first before getting on a trishaw; it is advisable to hire them by the hour for extended sightseeing.
Almost all locals in Penang are able to speak Malay, the national language of Malaysia. The ethnic Chinese in Penang usually speak a localized variant of Hokkien known as Penang Hokkien, which Minnan speakers from Taiwan and Fujian may have some difficulty understanding due to the slang and some loan words from Malay.
English is spoken fluently by most professionals and businessmen, as well as by service staff working in hotels and tourist attractions.
Events and festivals
Hari Raya Puasa. Muslim holiday celebrating the end of the fasting month
Chinese New Year. Chinese festival celebrating the lunar new year. Fourteen days later, during the full moon, there is a festival in which the gods from numerous temples around the island are brought out for a procession, with the route including Chulia St.
Thaipusam. A Hindu festival celebrated on the full moon in the Hindu-Tamil month of Thai (Jan/Feb).
Vesak. A Buddhist festival celebrated mainly by the Chinese community on the full moon of the 5th or 6th lunar month. It is characterized by a street parade. Temples will typically be filled with devotees and there will be a variety of activities by the various Buddhist associations and societies on this day.
George Town Festival. Held annually since 2010 to commemorate George Town's listing on the UNESCO heritage listing in 2008, it is a month long festival celebrating art, music, theatre, dance, opera and film. It usually runs from June to July and has attracted a lot of attention around the globe as one of the leading arts festivals in the region. It has a unique blend of local as well as international cultural showcases.
Penang International Dragon Boat Festival. Staged annually since 1979 and has successfully attracted teams from all over the world including Australia, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Indonesia, the Netherlands, the Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, Canada, and the USA. The event is now usually held at the Teluk Bahang Dam.
Penang Bon Odori Carnival. A Japanese traditional carnival usually with Japanese culture, drum and dance performances.
The Feast of St. Anne. Late July at St. Anne's Church, Bukit Mertajam. A Christian religious festival that includes a candle-light procession at the church.
Nine Emperor Gods vegetarian festival, held at Taoist temples for 9 days of the 9th lunar month in the Chinese calendar, normally at the end of Sept or Oct.
OBSCURA Festival of Photography. This is one of Asia-Pacific's most successful and vibrant photography festivals. The festival includes print exhibitions and slideshows, workshops, talks, a photobook micro-festival, portfolio reviews and fringe events. OBSCURA Festival takes place in August annually and visitors come from all across Asia, Europe and the Americas to participate.
What to do
Beaches - The secluded and unspoiled beaches of Teluk Duyung, Muka Head, Pantai Kerachut, and Teluk Kampi are located on the north-western coast of the island, part of the Penang National Park.
Jungle Trekking and Camping - The Penang National Park was gazetted as a reserve in 1928 and boost a good many trails through virgin jungle. Camping is permissible wiithin Penang National Park but please check with authorities at the entrance. There are also hiking trails from the Botanic Gardens leading up to Penang Hill.